Book. The fear of collapse, the “solastalgia” and the multiple eco-anxieties aroused by forecasts linked to global warming will they be able to get thehomo economicus of his waking dream? This is what the economist Christian Arnsperger wants to believe, for whom the environmental crisis exposes the foundations “existential” of growth. The author of ecological existence (Seuil, “Anthropocène”, 432 pages, 23 euros), professor at the University of Lausanne, relies in particular on work in social psychology. According to the promoters of “fear management theory” (Terror Management Theory), the fact of thinking about their own death, by pushing individuals to intensify the role of values in their action, leads them to take economic decisions different from those they would have taken normally. This experience, according to him, summarizes two centuries of history.
It was by seeking to postpone the end of misery and famine that classical economic theory was constituted. It was then necessary to answer the “sinister prophecy” which, in Malthus and Ricardo, condemned human societies to recurring crises. Technical progress and the industrial revolution were able to deny these macabre predictions but, instead of annihilating the existential dread they had manifested, only reconfigured it. Because in modern Western societies, desire soon turns into need: material goods once considered luxuries become necessities. Also the liberal subject is always dissatisfied: he lives in an imaginary scarcity, founded on mimetic desire and on a novelty compulsion which can only be satisfied by new cycles of technical innovation and growth. This endless race, which is also a melancholy rejection of the world, would only be the repression of a terror in front of our own finitude, of our fundamental fear of death.
This homo economicus crescens is not a simple intellectual construct. It is the product of a long economic and political history which saw the ideology of growth triumph. For this, it was necessary to deny the performance of the old mode of production based on small property and the commons, to encourage industrial investment by making environmental externalities invisible, and to adopt a banking system in which indebtedness must remain high and linked to perpetual growth prospects. This is how, little by little, the growth of production per head has become a guarantee of employment, and shopping, the civic act par excellence by which consumers are invited to support productive activities.
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Source: Le Monde